Today the RAF have announced that the replacement for the RAF Sentry aircraft, the Wedgetail will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland not at RAF Waddington as was previously rumoured.
This will bring an end to the thirty years of the UK’s Airborne Early Warning & Control Capability being based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and the regular flying of aircraft with strange adaptions on their backs being regular fliers in Lincolnshire skies.
The E3 Sentry often called AWACS was first delivered to Waddington in November 1990 and soon became a fleet of seven Aircraft, each nicknamed after one of Snow Whites Seven Dwarf’s. Conceived in 1970 when the USAF decided to mount a modified Westinghouse AN/APY-1 radar on the top of a Boeing 707-320 Airliner the aircraft first flew in 1972 and entered service in 1977. The RAF aircraft features more efficient CFM56 engines and now sports a Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar on its back. In layman’s terms the AEW&C aircraft use the Radar to monitor the sky’s with the advantage of being much higher than Radar units on the Ground meaning they can see much further. Controllers in the rear of the Aircraft gather this surveillance data of the airspace, alert commanders to incoming threats and provide tactical air traffic control to friendly Air Assets within the Battlespace to either keep them protected or assist them targeting hostile forces.
The current E-3D fleet has been dwindling down for years now and we generally only see two of the original seven aircraft flying. More often than not other NATO fleet AEW&C fly into the UK’s Flight Information Regions to work with UK based fighters. In March 2019 it was announced that the UK had signed a £1.51bn deal to purchase five Wedgetail aircraft to replace the E-3D Sentry Fleet bringing an Electronically Scanned Array Radar into the RAF AEW&C capability for the first time in the form of the Northrop Grumman MESA Radar.
In our Audio Notebook earlier in the year we revealed that the RAF were looking to develop on the Eastern side of the Airfield under Project Larson which would have built the facilities required to house the new Wedgetail alongside the new General Atomics Protector RG Mk.1 (RPAS) Drones. However this news throws new doubt on this project and it’s current status is unknown, but obviously such a facility would no longer need to accommodate the Wedgetail aircraft.
So, why the change to RAF Lossiemouth? Well, RAF Lossiemouth has recently undertaken a major set of Runway works to give longevity to the Runway infrastructure so the runway should serve them well into the future. But most importantly RAF Lossiemouth is home to the Boeing P8 Poseidon MRA1 which, the same as the Wedgetail is based on the Boeing 737, so it makes sense to have both types, based on the same aircraft, located in the same place.
Despite this it will of course be unwelcome news to those that enjoy going to see ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) Fleet Aircraft at RAF Waddington. We are loosing the E-3D Sentry and will likely be loosing the Sentinel to an 2021 out of service date (SDSR 2015). With that being said RAFAT The Red Arrows are moving to Waddington from Scampton and they will require significant Runway and Airfield Manoeuvring Time. They will join the newly upgraded, secretive and in demand Shadow Aircraft as well as the three Rivet Joint which although rumours abound about their re-homing to RAF Mildenhall to join the USAF Rivet Joint, both their custom hangar at RAF Waddington, the new Rivet Joint Simulator and the threats of closure ebbing and flowing over RAF Mildenhall would seem to suggest they will remain for some time. RAF Waddington also seems to be on track to welcome the new General Atomics Protector RG Mk.1 (RPAS) Drones with changes to the local airspace to allow RPAS operations from the beginning of 2023.
Of course we may well see the Wedgetail from time to time at RAF Waddington for reasons such as currency training, a diversion airfield or Bolthole Ops should they ever be unable to work out of RAF Lossiemouth for whatever reason. They will likely operate in similar locations as the Sentry (A Map of AWACS Obrits is available in our charts section) however the Wedgetail requires 100nm by 20nm elongated racetrack Orbits rather than the current circular ones designed for the Sentry and the process for changing airspace to suit is currently scheduled for mid 2023.